Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Schmidt Report

Yesterday, I read the Executive Summary of the Schmidt Report, presenting the results of the military's investigation into charges by FBI agents that detainees at Guantanamo were tortured and abused. The full report is classified and not available to the public.

Andrew Sullivan and Marty Lederman have written authoritative analyses of the report.

Sullivan makes the crucial point that, although the authors of this report are essentially apologists for torture, they do demonstrate that the detainee abuses uncovered at Abu Ghraib were part of a deliberate "Gitmoization policy."

One great merit of the Schmidt report - which is otherwise riddled with worrying euphemisms, dismissal of troubling facts, exoneration of almost all commanders - is that we now know that almost every one of the Abu Ghraib techniques was practised and innovated at Guantanamo. These were not improvised out of nowhere. They were what the report calls "the creative application of authorized interrogation techniques," and the interrogators "believed they were acting within existing guidance." Here's a list of techniques used at Gitmo. You might find some of them familiar:

* interrogators "brought a military working dog into the interrogation room and directed it to growl, bark and show teeth"
* some prisoners were restrained with "hand restraints connected directly to an eyebolt in the floor"
* one interrogator "tied a leash to hand chains, led [the detainee] around the room through a series of dog tricks."
* a prisoner was pinned down while a female interrogator straddled him
* a prisoner was told he was gay and forced to dance with another male
* one prisoner had his entire head duct-taped because he refused to stop "chanting passages from the Koran;" one had his Koran removed; another had an interrogator squat over his Koran on a table, while interrogating him.

If you recall Abu Ghraib, you will remember how almost every one of these techniques was deployed on the night shift. This is a critical point. The kind of techniques used in Abu Ghraib - sexual humiliation, hooding, use of dogs, tying prisoners up in "stress positions", mandatory nudity, humiliating prisoners for their religious faith, even the famous Lynndie England leash - were all developed at Guantanamo Bay under the strictest of supervision. What we were told were just frat-guy, crazy techniques on the night shift - had been deployed by the best trained, most tightly controlled, most professional interrogation center we have. The Schmidt report argues that, while some of this was out of bounds, it was only because of some extra creativity, not because the techniques themselves were illicit, or unauthorized by Rumsfeld and Bush. Abu Ghraib is and was policy - just policy absorbed by ill-trained, unprofessional hoodlums. But those hoodlums didn't get their ideas from thin air. They got them from the Pentagon and the White House.

Marty Lederman writes about one of the more disturbing aspects of the Bush administration's policy on torture: the way the Bushies' attempts to justify the policy manipulate reality and distort meaning. The Geneva Conventions do not apply to detainees in the "war on terror" and the U.S. is not obliged to treat them humanely, the U.S. says. But Bush also insists detainees will be treated in accordance with the G.C., even though Bush's Justice Department has gone out of its way to rewrite international law and decide on its own that detainees are not "prisoners of war." Why would the Bush administration swear up and down that detainees will be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, at the same time that an army of Justice Department lawyers works day and night to make up reasons why the Geneva Conventions do not apply?

And why would the authors of the Schmidt Report catalog, in graphic detail, pages and pages and pages of horrors done to the detainees at Guantanamo (and duplicated at Abu Ghraib), and acknowledge, in most instances, that these events actually occurred, and then tell us that most of what was done was authorized, and all of it was humane?

The term "Orwellian" is so routinely used to describe the degradation of common meaning in public discourse that it's lost much of its rhetorical oomph. But if ever it were appropriate to invoke that hoary adjective, perhaps now's the time. Recall the Ministry of Truth in "1984": "WAR IS PEACE; FREEDOM IS SLAVERY; IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH," right? Well, would you believe . . .

The Schmidt Summary explains in great detail that certain interrogation techniques approved and employed at GTMO—particularly those used on Mohammed al-Qahtani, which I've previously described—were "abusive" and "degrading," and further reveals that the interrogation of another "high-value" detainee included unlawful threats against the lives of the detainee and his family. And yet then the Report somehow, and without any explanation whatsoever, concludes that all treatment at GTMO was "humane"—indeed, that the investigators found "no evidence" of any "inhumane treatment" at Guantanamo!
That is not, however, the most alarming thing about the Schmidt Report. More disturbing still is the Report's repeated assertions that the techniques in question—which included, for example, having female interrogators physically seduce and taunt a Muslim detainee; forcing him to wear a bra and placing a thong on his head during interrogation; tying him to a leash, leading him around the room and forcing him to perform a series of dog tricks; stripping him naked; and pouring water on his head during interrogation 17 times—are not only "humane," but also are authorized by Army Field Manual 34-52.
Most strikingly, on page 19 of the Executive Summary, the following techniques used on al-Qahtani are among the techniques that are now understood to be "authorized" under the Army Field Manual as examples of the "Ego Down" and "Futility" techniques:

-- forcing a detainee to wear a bra and have a thong placed on his head during interrogation;

-- tying a detainee to a leash, leading him around the room and forcing him to perform a series of dog tricks;

-- forcing him to dance with a male interrogator;

-- stripping him maked;

-- placing Korans on a television "as a control measure";

-- and pouring water on the detainee during interrogation—17 times.

Although Schmidt ultimately concludes (p.20) that these techniques cumulatively were abusive and degrading, nevertheless they weren't inhumane—and, of course, they're authorized by the Army Field Manual . . . .
...the Schmidt Report concludes that such techniques are "authorized" by the Field Manual and, thus, under Geneva's protections for POWs. This document blurs the lines with respect to the military's ordinary interrogation tactics, transforming a number of those into tactics that would now plainly violate the Geneva Conventions. The implications of this are predictable and ominous: In a future conflict, even if we decide to adhere to Geneva and to treat the enemy as POWs, interrogators will likely think that some or many of these new interpretations of Field Manual 34-52 techniques are permissible. Indeed, the message of this Report appears to be the following: (i) Manual 34-52 describes treatment that may be used on POWs, consistent with Geneva; (ii) Manual 34-52 approves of particular techniques denominated "Futility" and "Ego Down"; (iii) Ergo, any technique, no matter how "abusive" and "degrading," that results in the detainee's sense of futility or loss of ego, is permissible, and legal under Geneva.

In other words, not only has the Bush administration rewritten the requirements under the Geneva Conventions for determining prisoner of war status; now, with the publication of the Schmidt Report, the Bush administration has rewritten the Geneva Conventions itself, to alter which interrogation tactics are legal under the G.C.!

And while we're on the subject of twisting the meaning of words, The Heretik makes the excellent point that, in the context of U.S. policy toward Arab and Muslim detainees, "abuse" is a polite word for what is really "torture."

The Abuse Of Language in Service to Torture at Guantanamo continues. Yesterday Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, the chief of a U.S. Southern Command investigation into FBI agents reports of Guantanamo detainee torture tried to put the best face on an ugly reality. In giving away the lie to Pentagon claims of using only appropriate techniques, the Department of Defense’s own reports note that individual techniques might not be violations of policy, but in aggregate were “degrading and abuse.” Abuse is a euphemism for torture. Abuse is the word apologists for abomination use to admit the practice but not the truth of torture.

Don't miss Jeanne's commentary on the Schmidt report (written before she left on vacation). Her post was the one that led me to all the others above.

No comments: